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37th PARLIAMENT, 3rd SESSION

Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development


EVIDENCE

CONTENTS

Wednesday, April 28, 2004




¹ 1535
V         The Chair (Hon. Charles Caccia (Davenport, Lib.))
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell (Executive Director, Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy)

¹ 1540

¹ 1545

¹ 1550
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Roy Bailey (Souris—Moose Mountain, CPC)
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         Mr. Roy Bailey
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         Mr. Roy Bailey
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell

¹ 1555
V         Mr. Roy Bailey
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Bernard Bigras (Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, BQ)
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell

º 1600
V         Mr. Bernard Bigras
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Julian Reed (Halton, Lib.)

º 1605
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell

º 1610
V         Mr. Julian Reed
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         Mr. Julian Reed
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         The Chair
V         Hon. Serge Marcil (Beauharnois—Salaberry, Lib.)

º 1615
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         Hon. Serge Marcil

º 1620
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.)
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell

º 1625
V         Mr. Paul Szabo
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         Mr. Paul Szabo

º 1630
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         Mr. Paul Szabo
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         Mr. Paul Szabo
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         Mr. Paul Szabo

º 1635
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         Mr. Paul Szabo
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         The Chair
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         The Chair

º 1640
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         The Chair

º 1645
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Rex Barnes (Gander—Grand Falls, CPC)
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Roy Bailey
V         The Chair

º 1650
V         Mrs. Anne Mitchell
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Roy Bailey
V         The Chair










CANADA

Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development


NUMBER 014 
l
3rd SESSION 
l
37th PARLIAMENT 

EVIDENCE

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

¹  +(1535)  

[Translation]

+

    The Chair (Hon. Charles Caccia (Davenport, Lib.)): Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the televised session of our committee meeting.

[English]

    We welcome Madam Mitchell to our televised program, for posterity. Everybody knows of the good work done by the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy.

    If you would like to, make a presentation and then we will have a good round of questions. This is the usual procedure, and I hope you will find it acceptable.

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell (Executive Director, Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy): Merci, Mr. Chair. Thank you very much.

    First of all, I'd like to thank the committee for their work. You're doing important work on the environment and sustainable development. If we don't have an environment, if we can't work on sustainability issues, we won't have an economy. Your work is really important, and I just want to thank you for it. I want to thank the chair also for his work over the years.

    I want to thank you for giving me some of your time this afternoon. I do have a short presentation to make, but I also actually want to seek your help and advice.

    I thank the staff as well for actually getting the documents to you. We did have some technical problems, but I believe you have my brief ten-page paper in both languages, and I appreciate that. I'm not going to go over the paper, but I will point to some of the highlights in it.

    First of all, for those of you who are not aware, the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy was founded in 1970. Over the past 34 years, we have been providing leadership in the research and development of environmental law and policy that promotes the public interest and sustainability. We were involved with the development of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

    The Environmental Bill of Rights in Ontario was one of our first objectives. It took 25 years, but we are pleased to have an Environmental Bill of Rights that just celebrated its tenth anniversary in that province, and also that we have a Commissioner for Sustainable Development at the federal level.

    We've had a long history of work on the Great Lakes. One of our most recent publications was called Troubled Waters?, which was put out in the late nineties, early 2000, which documented some of the problems we see in the Great Lakes. We've been doing annual reports on Ontario's environment from 1976 to about 2002. One of the papers we excerpted from one of our reports was on the lessons we've learned from Walkerton. We have a report called Liquid Assets--Monitoring Water Quality in Ontario.

    We've also been active on the sustainability file. One of the things we did, about three years ago, was a discussion paper called Sustainable Development in Canada: a New Federal Plan, on the need for the federal government to show leadership and to get out of its silos and work towards partnering with the provinces and other stakeholders to determine what we want as a vision for this country in the next fifty years.

    Today, perhaps I can say a few things about the state of the Great Lakes and the issues that concern us. Although this is a regional issue, I think it is also a national issue and it is a sustainability issue.

    The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was signed in 1972. It was renewed in 1978, when the two countries pledged “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin”. The agreement was based on the two principles of cleaning up the pollutants already present and preventing further pollutants from getting into the Great Lakes.

    One of the issues that still concerns us related to the Great Lakes is the remediation of contaminated sediments. Only two of the areas of concern have in fact been cleaned up. There are still 15 to go. Progress has been slow.

    Another issue of concern relates to toxic discharges. Pesticides, persistent organic pollutants, and heavy metals such as mercury are still finding their way into the Great Lakes system. Community groups have complained about the PCB leak into the St. Lawrence River at the Technoparc landfill site in Montreal. This morning there was a brief article about how the CEC in fact is going to launch an investigation if two of the three NAFTA countries--the United States, Mexico, and Canada--approve of the action.

¹  +-(1540)  

    As well, there are new chemicals going into the Great Lakes. Canadian waters are contaminated with a new range of pharmaceutical drugs. I suppose we're pleased that people have stopped putting them in the landfill, but now they think that flushing them down the toilet will solve the problem. We're turning rivers into a toxic soup, and we don't know what the dangers are going to be in the long term. The new substances of concern will depend on the ability to identify the impacts of these substances to human health through consideration of new health endpoints. Examples are substances that impair or disrupt the endocrine system--and in today's The Globe and Mail there's an article about a study that Environment Canada has been doing on the change and the disruption to hormone systems.

    Sewage treatment plants are another issue. Municipal effluents are a serious source of contamination. One of our current studies is looking at municipalities who have not set discharge limits for most of the regular contaminants, and we've observed that there is no uniformity of discharge limits for the toxic compounds within the municipalities. There is also difference in the compliance methods, in the monitoring requirements, and in the amounts of fines for similar violations.

    At many places the sewage pipes flowing into the rivers and lakes continue to carry bacteria, metals, and other chemicals. A study by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper in 2002-2003 found that 79% of the surface water samples collected from six different cities in the Great Lakes basin did not meet the water quality objectives. Many municipal water and wastewater treatment facilities are ageing, and the growing population is adding stress to these facilities.

    And what about the issue of climate change considerations? Climate change is now widely recognized as a serious environmental threat. It needs to be included in the management strategy for the Great Lakes. The navigability of the St. Lawrence Seaway is at risk because of low water levels. In the early part of the 1900s, water levels in the port of Montreal averaged two metres above the average low-water mark. At the turn of this century, this margin had declined to less than one metre.

    And what about the issue of invasive species? Invasive species have spread in Canada's environment, and particularly in the Great Lakes. Probably most of them have come from individuals and from garden centres, but this is an issue that may affect human health.

    Human and environmental health are yet another Great Lakes-related issue we have. There is strong medical and scientific evidence of a direct effect between environmental contaminants and health disorders among adults, children, and wildlife. In 2002, the International Joint Commission, in their eleventh biennial report, expressed concern over the serious risks to human health posed by toxic pollutants in the Great Lakes. In addition to injury to health, there are also the economic and social impacts of toxic pollution.

    So what can we do about all of this? We would like to put forward that in fact we should be looking at a preventative rather than a curative approach. While it's important to clean up the mess we've already created, we need to put steps in place to make sure that we can protect the lakes from emergence of invasive species, new chemicals, and climate change implications.

    One approach is source protection. The federal government and the provincial government of Ontario have realized the need for integrated watershed management in the Great Lakes basin, and we have the example of Ontario. Yes, it had to be in sequel to the Walkerton tragedy, but at least they're now proposing a plan to include preserving and restoring water quality and quantity, restoring the landscape, and reducing discharges.

    What about conservation of natural resources and energy? Canada has one of the largest renewable supplies of fresh water in the world, and we're also among the highest consumers of water in terms of per capita use. We consume about four times as much as European countries, and we consume about 15 times as much as some of the drought-prone countries in the developing world. Our water consumption pattern must change in light of the fact that some of Canada's freshwater resources are being threatened. Conservation of energy and use of renewable energy will help.

¹  +-(1545)  

    On monitoring, although the Canadian water quality guidelines for the protection of aquatic life have listed 180 chemical substances, the number of chemicals actually monitored is often as low as 30. The IJC has pointed this out, and CIELAP also pointed this out in our Liquid Assets: Monitoring Water Quality in Ontario.

    Restorative technology: the governments of Canada and Ontario could jointly facilitate the growth of restorative industries that would contribute to the ultimate restoration of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes program needs to include restoration and conservation with elements of sustainability. Converting conventional farms to organic farms, integrating agriculture with ecosystem and watershed restoration by restoring native species, growing forest plants, and joining disconnected forest ecosystems would increase biodiversity and also benefit farmers.

    Most of the waste water treatment plants are old, outdated, and undersized, and also their aging, leaking, and under-capacity sewers need restoration.

    Above all, there needs to be public education and information. The 87 protocols of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement emphasized broad local community involvement. However, there's been limited public and local support. This was cited as a major setback in sediment project implementation at an IJC workshop in 1997. In the recent IJC report it was emphasized again that the Great Lakes region cannot receive support as a national priority without a publicly accepted comprehensive plan for restoring the Great Lakes.

    Both the federal and provincial governments need to improve their efforts for educating and informing the public of monitoring results, the rationale for selection of methodologies, and on progress.

    So we have some specific recommendations. We'd ask that you take all these issues, concerns, and needs into account when considering the renewal of the federal Great Lakes program, which is under consideration right now. We need to identify opportunities for binational approaches. This is a binational resource, and I don't know whether there are some possibilities at the June meeting of the Canada-U.S. interparliamentary committee.

    During the review of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which is coming up now, we need to ensure that it reflects a long-term vision for the Great Lakes ecosystem. There's a need for increased capacity for all levels of government--federal, provincial, and municipal. And particularly, we need to strengthen the capacity of the federal and the Ontario governments to meet the commitments of the Canada-Ontario agreement.

    We need to improve mechanisms to involve the public. We've been involved in two consultations over the last few months on the Great Lakes, and we need to know what's happening with these consultations, with the information we're providing, and how we can remain involved. We need to commit to a green energy future and a future of conservation.

    The federal government needs to show leadership and must work to make the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence ecosystem restoration a national priority. We feel this will be possible by adopting a targeted and proactive approach toward Great Lakes restoration, emphasizing public education and information, and increasing transparency in the approach in monitoring and in evaluation about how in fact we're doing.

    We're working with two other environmental organizations, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, and Great Lakes United. I'm sorry that neither of them could be with me today. We're doing a couple of reports. One is on how to finance source water protection; this is for the Ontario government and it's about case studies. Another one is on public participation and how to engage the public in this issue; again, it's a work in progress. We're looking at case studies in other jurisdictions. What have they done in Europe? What have they done in Brazil and some other parts of the world where there are waters that bound different countries?

¹  +-(1550)  

    We're going to be putting out five fact sheets for parliamentarians both at the federal and the provincial level. These will be very brief, one or two pages maximum. They will be translated into French. There'll be one on the Canada-Ontario agreement, one on the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, one on emerging issues, and one on what's going on in the United States with their restoration agenda. We don't want Canada to be left behind. It is a binational jurisdiction. We need to work with the United States, and Canada needs to play its role.

    I would like, as well as responding to your questions, to seek your advice on how to engage our politicians and our public in raising the profile of the Great Lakes, which is a resource we should be treasuring.

    Thank you very much for listening.

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    The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Mitchell.

    We'll start with Mr. Bailey, followed by Mr. Bigras and Mr. Reed.

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    Mr. Roy Bailey (Souris—Moose Mountain, CPC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Ms. Mitchell.

    In most environmental issues you'll get two very distinct, different sides and opinions. But when it comes to the topic you have discussed with us today, that's not likely to happen, because it's so evident from everyone in Canada I've come across that there is a real problem with water, not only in the Great Lakes, but drinking water across Canada. And you're involved with that.

    I have a question. You mentioned disposing of pharmaceutical drugs. I've often read you don't throw them in the landfill and don't flush them down the toilet. Did I hear you say that's not a good idea as well?

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: No, because the stuff eventually gets back in through the sewer system and back into the Great Lakes. Take them to the pharmacy. Make Shoppers Drug Mart take them back, or take them to the hospital.

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: Thank you. I had to get that one in.

    The question I have for you is when you're working with our counterparts in the United States, are the monitoring, frame of reference, and the testing standardized? When the reports come out, their report and the Canadian report, do they balance out because they have the same criteria, testing, and so on?

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: No, I don't think we're as sophisticated as to have the same testing and the same ways of measuring. We're working with a group of non-government organizations on the U.S. side called the Blue Group. Right now most of their energy is being put on the restoration bills that are before Congress and the Great Lakes Day that they held on March 3. But I will ask them about those questions and perhaps I could get back to you with what are the thoughts on the U.S. side about how to make sure we're monitoring in the same way.

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: Another question I have in that regard is, in the testing and monitoring that obviously your department oversees, do we have private companies doing this? Is it government companies, or government scientific groups? Who does this?

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: In the case of Ontario, the Ontario government does do some monitoring, but they cut a lot of their monitoring stations and certainly their capacity, with the various budget and personnel cuts that went on in Ontario in the past eight years. It's our analysis that in fact they don't have the capacity to do the monitoring they say they're doing.

    We've pointed this out to them, so whether they're going to increase that capacity or not.... A lot of the testing is done by private firms. In fact, one of the groups we're working with, which is on the southern shores of Lake Huron, are doing their own testing. They're taking their own samples and getting their own tests done.

    They actually had quite a bit of coverage in the local Toronto papers a few months ago, and they're wondering what they can do next. The next steps for them is for two citizens to make a petition, to write a letter to the environmental commissioner in Ontario and say that the Government of Ontario is not protecting their water. That's one thing. I don't know if they decided to go that way. The next thing is a class action suit in a court of law. It's a shame that we're going that route.

¹  +-(1555)  

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

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    The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Bailey.

    Monsieur Bigras, vous avez la parole.

[Translation]

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    Mr. Bernard Bigras (Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, BQ): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    Welcome to the committee, Ms. Mitchell.

    I am most interested in the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway Network, particularly sub-system 1, namely, the part between Cornwall to the east of Beauharnois, which covers lake St. François, the Beauharnois Canal, the Saint-Charles River, etc., as well as sub-system 2, which includes lake St. Louis.

    Why is that? Because we know that in 1993, Environment Canada produced a very interesting report on sediment quality and the dredging of the St. Lawrence. The summary stated that in sub-system 1, 95% of the estimated levels for three metals, that is, copper, zinc and lead, came from the Great Lakes and the Cornwall area. That is for sub-system 1.

    For sub-system 2, or lake St. Louis, the water from the St. Lawrence was green and high in mineral content. It flowed from the Great Lakes basin and the international leg of the St. Lawrence River.

    This is my first question. In view of the highly industrialized nature of the Great Lakes region, have you noticed any improvements over the past few years?

    Since we know that these sub-systems are greatly influenced by what takes place in the Great Lakes, have you noticed any recent improvements in terms of decontamination or waste water discharge by the large industries that I won't name but which are identified here?

[English]

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: There undoubtedly has been some reduction in some chemicals, and some industries have, as it were, closed the loop so that at least if there's a discharge.... They're still discharging into the Great Lakes, and they complain about the national pollutant release inventory data, because we rank them in some of our stuff and they say that's not fair because in fact these are legal limits that they're discharging. So perhaps we have to review those legal limits and make them tougher. But even among the ones that are discharging above the legal limit when there is an accident or something, or so they say, there are some attempts by some industries to close that loop so that there is some warning before it actually discharges into the Great Lakes.

    Obviously in Ontario we've had several leaks in the last few months. I suppose the fines aren't high enough. The inspections aren't rigorous enough. We're not catching them. But I know that industries claim that they have made some improvements, and if you were to go through the NPRI data you would probably see some changes.

    But we can't rest on our laurels. There are new problems coming, and there are still problems that have to be cleaned up. There are only two areas of concern that have been cleaned up. The areas you're talking about certainly haven't been. The priority has to be on cleaning up those areas of concern and then to try to strengthen the regulations or try to make sure that industries.... Fine them.

º  +-(1600)  

[Translation]

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    Mr. Bernard Bigras: Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask one more short question, and it will be my last one. A report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suggests five options to make the seaway more competitive for both trade and navigation.

    Three of these five options provide for an expansion of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The report suggests that the seaway be made 35 feet deeper near the ports, and canals.

    I want to know whether you think the dredging of the seaway would have any effect on the environment. Do you think this could affect the quality of the water? Should these projects be evaluated according to a sustainable development criterion?

[English]

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: I'm not an engineer, but I think these projects would be disastrous, for many reasons: on the environment, on water quality, on encouraging us to continue....

    It's not going to help us. We have to make fundamental changes to the way we are doing things if in fact we are serious about moving on to a more sustainable way of life. This is just going in the total opposite direction, in my view.

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    The Chair: Merci, Monsieur Bigras.

    Mr. Reed, followed by Mr. Marcil.

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    Mr. Julian Reed (Halton, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    This is a huge subject area, and I'd like to zero in, if I could, on a couple of issues. One has to do with federal powers. What are the federal powers, other than moral suasion and giving suggestions to the IJC, in terms of the Great Lakes? That's one area of concern.

    The question of water quality, even in the Great Lakes, involves municipalities, as well as the province, as well as individuals. This is not confined to one jurisdiction.

    We have a crazy situation where I live. I have the dubious distinction of living in the fastest-urbanizing part of Canada right at the moment. When the local municipality decided it didn't have enough groundwater to supply the growth, of course the solution was right there: a pipe into Lake Ontario; we'll put a double pipe in and we'll bring the water out, then we'll put the effluent back in and we'll depend on dilution to.... It's the old technology that goes back to 1906 in Toronto.

    Through all of that, there was never any suggestion of, for instance, incorporating grey water recycling in new housing. There was never any suggestion of harvesting of rain water. Even now, within about a mile of my farm, there's a car wash that boasts on an advertising sign: “fresh water only”. So this kind of incredible waste and lack of foresight is driving the agenda right at the moment.

    I'm not sure how we do it jurisdictionally. If I were a municipal councillor, I could work on that end, but then I would not be a provincial member, and so on. So the question is, how to do we get this together and even put it into the municipal act that this new housing all has to contain these kinds of conservation efforts, because right now nothing has changed.

    I see publicly, in the press, emphasis going on things that are really not at the top of the priority list. For instance, there was a news article--and I'll get struck down by lightning for saying this--that there was E. coli found in water in Indian band territory. E. coli is the easiest thing to fix. I live on a well, and I have E. coli in my well twice a year, and when I identify it I put a little Javex down the well and it's fine.

    This is not the potential killer. What is the potential killer is what's happening on a greater scale here. Fortunately, we haven't had a second Walkerton, but I fear that we'll idle along until we do, and that is of great concern. So I suppose it's in the nature of a question: what are the federal powers here? And the other thing is, can we launch a campaign to raise public awareness?

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: The federal government clearly has responsibility and power. It has signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with the United States, which has committed Canada to control pollution in the Great Lakes and to clean out waste waters from industries and communities, along with the United States. One thing Canada needs to do is to talk to the United States about this and figure out how we're going to work together.

    Obviously the federal government has responsibility, because it signed the Canada/Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality. There, they've jointly committed under the current COA, signed in March 2002, and extending for five years.... It is an agreement between the federal government and the Government of Ontario. The main goals are to restore all uses to two of the 16 areas of concern, to complete the actions in six areas of concern, and to make progress in the remaining areas of concern. That's their commitment until 2007, and we're now at 2004.

    Other goals are to have policies and programs in place to make progress towards the virtual elimination of persistent toxic substances, such as mercury, dioxins, furans, and PCBs; to reduce other harmful pollutants; and to have comprehensive knowledge on the fate of sources' movements and the impacts of harmful pollutants. I don't know where we are on those, and I don't know who's taking the lead on them, or whether the federal government and the provincial government are working together.

    Another goal is to understand the lake-wide environmental problems and their causes, and to reach a consensus and have broad-based support for priority actions. I don't think we've done that. A further goal is to have in place coordinated and efficient federal-provincial scientific monitoring and information management systems for tracking changes.

    There was an awful period in Ontario for eight years, when all we saw was stuff being cut. Because we work quite closely with the Environment Canada regional office, I know there were some difficulties in working together regionally. I think there should be increased emphasis on the federal government and the Government of Ontario working together on these issues.

    In terms of municipalities, you're right that if we continue with development sprawl, and developers just doing what they want where they want, and we continue with building bigger monster homes with more land, and all of the rest of it, if we continue that kind of urban development, we are making the problem worse.

    We have to change. There has to be a public awareness campaign in terms of what is the meaning of success in a 21st century society? It can no longer be a bigger house, more money, and a new car every year. If we are committed to moving towards a sustainable society, we have to put forward other measures of success: music, art, working in the voluntary sector, having a nice garden, and using your leisure time well. There are other ways we can measure success, and the pubic awareness campaign has to be on that kind of lifestyle. We all know that for everyone in the world to live the way we do, it would take four globes.

º  +-(1610)  

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    Mr. Julian Reed: But the frustrating part here is if the federal government were to say yes, we'll launch an intensive advertising campaign, the next thing is that we'd be in the soup for—

    An hon. member: Question time is already past.

    Mr. Julian Reed: Well, the federal government is hanged for a sheep as for a goat in this situation, because when you do, you're accused of proselytizing your own party, and that sort of thing.

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: Is it possible for work to be done on an issue in a non-partisan manner? The Great Lakes is a non-partisan issue.

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    Mr. Julian Reed: Of course it is, if we could just get the opposition to do that.

    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: It doesn't need to be a massive advertising campaign—although people watch so much television these days. But for example, we were doing a piece of work recently for the MPRI office, trying to identify case studies of community groups that have used the MPRI data. They wanted to use the MPRI data to go to a facility and talk to them about what they were doing. We found that very difficult to find. There are community groups using the MPRI data, but they're using it more as a lobbying tool, or they're using it to push forward policy.

    We also went to the regional offices of Environment Canada across the country and asked them, “You're in Alberta”—or Newfoundland or wherever—“and do you know the groups that are interested in using this data?” And they didn't. So there are ways of using the regional offices of your own infrastructure to help get out there and talk to people.

    Mr. Julian Reed: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

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    The Chair: We now have Monsieur Marcil, followed by Mr. Szabo.

[Translation]

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    Hon. Serge Marcil (Beauharnois—Salaberry, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    I have read reports and French-language newspaper articles dealing with the quality of water in Lake St. François. The quality of water in that lake was compared to that of surrounding lakes, including Lake St. Louis and Lake St. Pierre, and it was determined that the water from Lake St. François, though not drinkable, was still better than the water in the other lakes. However, Lake St. François is part of the St. Lawrence River, and its water comes from the Great Lakes and the Beauharnois Canal. All of this flows into Lake St. Louis, one of the lakes which, along with Lake St. Pierre, is the most distressed.

    Where I come from, in St. Anicet, which is close to the border with New York State, almost opposite Cornwall, there is a dispute over the La Guerre River, which flows into the St. Lawrence. The farmers and the lake residents are at odds. Since there is a great deal of discussion surrounding metals and the many industries located very close to the Great Lakes, both in the US and in Canada, I would like to know what impact is caused by agricultural pollution in the Great Lakes as well as in the seaway. Has there been an improvement or are things getting worse?

º  +-(1615)  

[English]

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: Obviously, the runoff from agriculture, particularly from some of the huge farms we're now seeing built and coming up, is having an effect. That was the issue that caused Walkerton; it was agricultural runoff. Some of these hog farms are as large as small towns; at least, they have as many hogs as there are people in small towns. Yet the small towns are regulated and the hog farms aren't. I think the first thing is, some of those farms have to be treated as industries and regulated.

    Obviously, as residents, we individuals have a role to play as well. We drop litter on the Great Lakes, we pollute the Great Lakes, and we throw stuff down the sewers. In Ontario, throwing hazardous waste materials down the sewers is still one of the principal ways the people of Ontario dispose of hazardous waste. That has to stop.

    As to how we do these things, there have to be two ways. There has to be massive public awareness. I do believe that once you get people's attention, they can change their habits, but it's a matter of how to get their attention. I think we also need to beef up our laws, both federally where this applies and provincially where it applies.

    With respect to the issues we're facing these days, the government can't solve them on its own but it can certainly show leadership on what has to be done. We all have a role to play, both industry and individuals. That's what the whole sustainability thing is, that we need to be working at all three levels of government and with all sectors.

    How do you move forward unless somebody in the country puts forward a vision of where we want to go? Do we want to just use the resources into the ground and say it's not going to be us anyway; it's going to be our grandchildren who are going to have to deal with the problem--I'm going to be fine? How do we want to get across to people that we can't go on this way, that something has to give?

    I don't have answers. I need advice from you as to how we can move forward, but it would be way better if we could move forward together and try to find a solution.

[Translation]

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    Hon. Serge Marcil: The problem we often face when it comes to the environment is that everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die; that, more or less, is the problem. Everyone wants clean water and a healthy environment. We would like people to recycle, and to replace landfill sites with plants that recover, recycle, and process the waste. The problem is that individuals or companies... It seems to me that, before turning our attention to industry, we should first convince the people in each of the small villages, in each municipality, that the environment is important because they themselves work in those industries. Then, we can turn to the corporations. The people working there will be aware of the importance of protecting the environment and will encourage management to implement certain practices. Take, for example, the Kyoto Protocol. If you were to ask a multinational corporation to intervene and do what is necessary to allow us, as a country, to meet our greenhouse gas targets, then surely... It is essential that we convince those who work in these industries so that they will in turn pressure the shareholders, and so on.

    I will give you an example of a microsystem. Take the situation of farmers, for example. In Quebec, the Department of Agriculture has regulations to protect the shoreline. The clearing of brush is closely controlled, and so on. Because of the globalization of our economy, in order to reach a wider market, farmers must continually clear their land. Also, they use a number of different products in order to increase their yield. And where is all of that going? It makes its way into the streams, then to the rivers and finally, the lake. Those who live near the shore want to protect the water, while the farmers want to grow more crops. Being in compliance with certain protocols often requires hefty investments, and they are not necessarily entitled to any government assistance to convert.

    That is the problem for the industries located on the lakeshores. You mentioned the problems surrounding hog farming. The Yamaska River, in my riding, was one of the most polluted rivers in Quebec, if not in the entire country. This, of course, meant that it also polluted the St. Lawrence. Efforts were made, particularly through St. Lawrence Vision 2000 program, which allowed environmental groups to organize and raise awareness within municipalities, etc.

    I agree with you when you say that efforts must be made and that a number of stakeholders must be made aware of the problem, including municipal, provincial and federal governments, as well as corporations and citizens. It is an ongoing proposition, but when we run out of water, when there are no fish or birds or trees left on this earth, it will be too late then. What they are doing to the rainforest in Brazil is terrible. It's as if people are not clueing in. They are perhaps aware, but organizations such as yours need a lot more support. I don't think any one of us here is against environmental issues, and I don't think we should play politics with this. We should, however, do something to support the municipalities, the provinces and industry to institute healthy environmental practices.

    Thank you very much for your cooperation.

º  +-(1620)  

[English]

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    The Chair: Mr. Szabo.

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    Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.): Thank you.

    Thank you, Ms. Mitchell, for being here. Your paper touches on so many areas that it reminds me that many of these are integrated or linked in some way, that when you have a complex problem, there is a simple solution, and it's wrong. However, public education is normally a component of any effective solution to problems. Do you have an idea of the level of understanding or knowledge of the general public of the crises you've laid out?

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: I think there are two types of general public. There's the general public that I tend to be around, which is not all NGO types by any means. They are people who tend to be thoughtful, and they know we have a problem.

    I think one of the difficulties with the environment is empowering people to take action and to think that something they're doing actually makes a difference. I want to give you two examples. In a previous life, before I came to this organization, I was working on the anti-apartheid issue. I was running an organization that was providing legal support and humanitarian aid to political prisoners and families in South Africa. No one ever thought that issue would be resolved. There were a number of factors. First of all, there was violence going on inside the country that had to be stopped. The two leaders, both the President, Mr. Botha, and Nelson Mandela, were reasonable enough to realize they needed to find a way out of this. There was international pressure, but also individuals were taking action. That's one thing.

    I think there are people who somehow or other have lost any kind of community outlet or community view or caring for community. We all have a responsibility there.

    I don't think the advertising on television helps us at all, when we're being pitched with you need to have more, you need to buy more, you need to have bigger. Some people are busy working at two jobs to keep their big house and their new car and to be able to take their kids to horse riding and ballet.

º  +-(1625)  

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    Mr. Paul Szabo: I think we're being broader than we should be. Let's put some focus to this. The whole idea of approach is also important. In your paper you characterize the current approach to these as being curative as opposed to preventive. It's certainly a debate that has gone on in our health care system, about promoting positive lifestyle choices and that a dollar spent on prevention is more effective in terms of healthy outcomes than a dollar spent on providing cures, medicines, etc.

    Let's apply that to something the ordinary public could relate to, and that's sewage treatment. A lot of people probably don't understand where their water comes from. A lot of people probably are not aware of some of the facts you've brought here. I think the 2002-2003 report found that 79% of the surface water samples collected from six different cities in the Great Lakes basin did not meet provincial water quality objectives. If you have objectives, limits, or standards that are not being enforced, why have the standards, objectives, or limits in the first place? If you have jurisdictions that say this is their responsibility but they are not discharging that responsibility, we have a problem, and something has not happened.

    You also provided as an example that E.coli levels were 2,000 times higher than provincial water quality objectives at certain sites. It is out of the ballpark in terms of reasonableness. I'm not so concerned about whether or not the general public is empowered, because this is overwhelming. We're talking about the people who are responsible.

    If this committee really wanted to get into this, who should we call before this committee to explain to us why it is acceptable that they do not enforce the standards they profess to have? Who are the contributors to these problems? Why is it okay to create the damage in certain areas? I think it's important for us to know who is the problem. I know that you would be part of the solution, but there are others out there who are part of the problem. I don't think it's good enough to just say that it's us because of our lifestyle choices.

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: The Ministry of the Environment, the Ontario government, is obviously one. Can you call them here?

    Sure, you could call them here, the Minister of the Environment.

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    Mr. Paul Szabo: You raise things like chemicals going into the Great Lakes through the effluents. How about municipalities? How about looking at some of the major municipalities and what their practices are? It would be very interesting to see, here is how we do it, and we know; we measure. Here's what we measure, and we will fully admit that these are the kinds of things that happen, and it's not our problem to deal with this. It would be very interesting to start confronting people with who is the source of the problem and who has the potential for solutions.

    Do you know anybody who is particularly adamant about protecting the way we do things right now?

º  +-(1630)  

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: There are angles. There's Great Lakes United. There's the Canadian Environmental Law Association. We are actually having a meeting on NGOs.

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    Mr. Paul Szabo: Those are people on the good side. They're the good guys. I'm asking you about the bad guys.

    As another example, the IJC has raised this with us and others, about alien invasive species and controls on ballast discharge. We know that a lot of the problem of alien invasive species comes from ballast.

    We have, I understand, what are called “voluntary guidelines” with regard to ballast control, as opposed to mandatory regulations. You have to ask yourself, who is benefiting from not having mandatory regulations? Who is getting some consideration? Could it be corporate interests who, if you were to implement effective ballast control regulations, it would cost them money?

    Why is it that we don't empower the IJC, which apparently does not have the tools to be able to make things happen, to do these kinds of things to make sure that we're not going through this revolving door of fixing one problem with an alien invasive species but getting another one over the time period? So you make, on net basis, no progress whatsoever, knowing that the real economic cost of alien invasive species is, we're told, as high as the cost of SARS to Canada.

    This is not insignificant. The public probably doesn't know that, and it doesn't seem to be a sufficient crisis to empower someone or motivate someone to champion resolution of these things. So where are we going from here?

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: You're probably asking the key question. I don't have the answers either.

    We're trying to raise the issues and raise the concerns. Presumably any of the facilities that are in Sarnia, around Hamilton, or in southern Ontario could be brought before the committee.

    I don't know.... I don't know whether it's the shipowners. We're dealing with some huge corporations or interests that probably do not have an interest in making the kinds of changes that perhaps we are asking for.

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    Mr. Paul Szabo: Let me suggest to you that one of the reasons the whole discussion about Kyoto and our Kyoto commitment got the boost that it needed to get the support it needed was because there was an evolving and ultimately established direct link to health.

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: Right.

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    Mr. Paul Szabo: It really made the difference. Many of these items you've raised here are clearly linked to public health.

    You said you were here to ask what you could do, or for our words of wisdom. Maybe I'll just finish my comments by suggesting to you that members of Parliament are here to represent ridings and they have the best interests of every person in the riding, which means that every Canadian can be communicated to by the members of Parliament. I think that you and others who may be watching or listening should know that if you have a message to give, it would be very helpful if you were to provide publication material to all members of Parliament--it can be done very easily through e-mail, and it can be forwarded to constituents through our householders, our ten-percenters, or other modes that we have to communicate to people.

    I think it's extremely important that we draw on your wealth, but understand that people will not be able to give ten pages out to everybody.

º  +-(1635)  

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: No.

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    Mr. Paul Szabo: But I could assure you that a good, solid one-pager, which takes the best advantage of your knowledge, your expertise, and your passion here, could be articulated. That message could get out, because I think you do have friends within the House of Commons who would help, in terms of the public education component.

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: I appreciate that. Thank you very much for that offer. We are a very small organization. Our name belies our.... In fact, people think, oh, the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy, it must be, if not government, then funded by government. But sad to say, we're not.

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    The Chair: Ms. Mitchell, in your concluding remarks you asked how to raise the profile on this issue. Following what Mr. Szabo has just said, there a number of things you could do, and you've probably tried them in the past.

    First, let me congratulate you and the institute for chapter 2, on water, the one that you produced, I believe, last year, the fifth-year report. It seems to me that there you have a number of answers. You've broken them down by drinking water protection, source water protection, water conservation, and Great Lakes protection. Therefore, there is a considerable amount of work that has already gone into this on the part of your association. So let's say the technical work has been done. What you seem to be searching for now are ways and means to generate political will. Is that correct?

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: Yes.

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    The Chair: Well, political will can be generated, as you know, through many channels and in many ways. You have, for instance, the Ontario municipal association, and most of its members represent municipalities bordering Lake Ontario or the other Great Lakes. Surely it would not be too difficult to put the item of water protection and conservation on their agenda once more and have them pass some strong resolution aimed at both the provincial and the federal governments.

    That of course may not be sufficient, so the next step would be to approach MPPs and MPs and generate the necessary pressure on those whose ridings relate to the Great Lakes in one way or another. Here you would easily have some sixty MPs who fell into this general category, if not more. Of course, it would take a considerable amount of time to reach them one by one, but this could be done in this day and age with e-mail and other means in order to trigger some concerted action.

    The concerted action we're looking for is already in your paper, in one of your recommendations today. You have a target of at least 2015 as a date for the remedial action to clean up the areas of concern; it's on page 7 of your paper. That is what you would be asking the MPs and MPPs and the Ontario municipal association to do, namely to generate through the budgets of the municipalities, the Ontario government, and the federal government the necessary funds for concerted action by the three levels of government to complete their remediation by 2015, and that shouldn't be too difficult.

    In your presentation or in answer to a question, you made reference to the Canada-Ontario agreement. You will recall that at the present time the Canada-Ontario agreement is reduced to a very small amount spread over five years. Well, that could be the financial channel through which to generate the funds necessary, at least from two levels of government, federal and provincial, in order to achieve by 2015 the remediation of the areas of concern. Municipalities will have to do something on their own to complement this effort.

    Finally, a week ago we had the pleasure and the honour of hearing the new minister in charge of infrastructure, Mr. Scott, at this committee. He gave us an overview of what is happening at the present time, with fairly large sums of money to be pumped into the infrastructure program. He also indicated that he still has to decide on the allocation of some $1.4 billion for projects that have not yet been identified. Surely even a modest fraction of that amount, if it were to be channelled into the remediation of the areas of concern, could go a long way.

    But of course, in order to get on the infrastructure list, you need the political will that is triggered through MPs and the MPPs, because the infrastructure programs are usually initiated and approved by the three levels of government.

º  +-(1640)  

    Usually--this is a procedural detail--the initiative begins with the municipalities. If all the abutting municipalities were to include on their list, in their request for infrastructure funds from the federal government, a request of a certain amount of money aimed at the remediation of the 15 sites in the Great Lakes, then of course the provincial and the federal level would find it very difficult to ignore. Conversely, if there is no request on the part of the municipality in the infrastructure tug-of-war, so to say, or negotiations dealing with the remediation, then it is not very likely that the provincial and the federal level would put their remedial action on their list.

    So we really have to go to the municipal level in order to initiate the process. And in order to initiate the process at the municipal level, it seems to me that one way of approaching it would be the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, but at the same time, also by getting the support of mayors of large urban centres, beginning with the St. Lawrence, beginning with Montreal, Cornwall, Kingston, Toronto, and Hamilton, and then the cities on other Great Lakes as well. Once you get the coalition of mayors requesting funds under their infrastructure program, that momentum would be very difficult ignore.

    Does that make sense?

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: Yes, it does make sense.

    And we would also work with local community groups who are actually living in those municipalities, as well, so we'd be going from the top down and the bottom up.

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    The Chair: Failing that, the authority will be to make sure that the next Canada-Ontario agreement has in it an adequate amount of funds so as to meet this 2015 target as an alternative route.

    Finally, this committee was given by Environment Canada a report entitled Threats to Water Availability In Canada. It is a study that has been produced by the National Water Research Institute. In it there is a chapter 7 that deals with land use practices and changes in agriculture in particular. You made a reference to agricultural practices. What this study does is examine the impacts of farming on water, drainage effects, and future trends and emerging issues. You might find it quite useful in tackling at least the rural components, so to say, of the program.

    Maybe there are other chapters that could be useful in respect to water conservation. For instance, there is a chapter 5 on municipal water supply and urban development.

    So as you can see, Ottawa is the distant provider of funds, usually, and it does so very often when requested. But the initiative has to start somewhere, and in this particular case it seems to me at least that the initial step would begin by generating political will at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels.

º  +-(1645)  

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: Thank you very much for those comments, Mr. Chair, and for that advice.

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    The Chair: Now we have a second round.

    Mr. Barnes.

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    Mr. Rex Barnes (Gander—Grand Falls, CPC): Thank you very much for coming today, Ms. Mitchell. It's a pleasure to be here to ask you questions with regard to the Great Lakes.

    I was a councillor in the town of Grand Falls--Windsor. We as a council took the stand that something had to be done about the environment with regard to one of our major rivers, which we were polluting. We sometimes went against the advice of our taxpayers because we felt as a community that we had to do something. I think that is what has to happen here. The provincial politicians have to take a stand to make sure things are going to happen.

    It's not a bad thing that you're not funded by government, because I found in the past that if you're funded by government, you actually have to toe the government line. If not, they cut off your funding. Although it doesn't happen all the time, you have to be very careful. We need groups like yours to speak out and be forceful about the environment.

    From what I understand, you hit a crossroads. There's a lot of dropping the ball with regard to the Great Lakes, and I think it needs to get back on track. The first way for that to happen is that the politicians have to buy into it. I think that once the politicians buy into it, you'll find it comes easy. Approach the government as a group of concerned politicians whose areas surround the Great Lakes and say “We have to do something about this. We have to put our money where our mouth is. So let's deal with it.”

    There are many threats to the Great Lakes. What do you see as one of the greatest threats we need to deal with, one that politicians should deal with instantly, to bring awareness that there is a problem, and how do we go about it?

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: Cleaning up the areas of concern is probably the most practical thing we have to do immediately. In terms of public awareness, I think we have to somehow link the Great Lakes to health and climate change, because they are integrated issues.

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    The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Barnes.

    Mr. Bailey, would you like to make a further comment on this or on another subject?

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: No. I have a statement to make at the end.

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    The Chair: Ms. Mitchell, we thank you very much for bringing us up to date on your thinking on this issue. We don't hear enough about it.

    In your paper there is a recommendation that has tremendous potential. It deals with the elimination of tax incentives for unsustainable practices, such as factory farms, and providing incentives to sustainable practices. That is a message for the federal Minister of Finance and at the same time for provincial ministers of finance, particularly the part that relates to factory farms. That ought to be advanced by way of conversations, correspondence, or other means with the respective ministers in Ontario, of course, and at other levels. Tax incentives can be very powerful.

    Are there any further comments?

    We thank you very much for your testimony. We would like to keep in touch with you.

º  -(1650)  

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    Mrs. Anne Mitchell: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.

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    The Chair: Mr. Bailey.

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    Mr. Roy Bailey: Mr. Chairman, I want to say farewell to you and the members of the committee, although not very many are here, because I will not be back next week, and I will not be sitting on another committee on the environment. I've jumped from committee to committee, and I must tell you, sir, that this is indeed the most enjoyable committee I've sat on. I've enjoyed it very much, and I wish you well.

    My CEO said “You're coming home to stay.”

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    The Chair: Mr. Bailey, we've enjoyed very much having you with us. My colleagues and I appreciated your wisdom and your interventions. We wish you and your CEO well.

    The meeting is adjourned.